This week I'm gonna share the experience that started it all for me. Back when I first had my own computer and modem in 1987, I called local BBSes. BBSes, in those days, were programs that people ran on a PC or two at their house that answered the phone and allowed people with modems to "connect in," leave messages for each other, and exchange computer programs. BBSes with more than one line often allowed people to get on and chat, in real time, with one another. The BBSes weren't connected to each other in any way.
I remember, my first night with a computer and modem. I was up until 2am (on a school night!) discovering just what was out there. And the first BBS I called was "The Temple of Zuul," which a friend of mine had introduced me to. This system allowed people to "talk" to each other by allowing people to leave messages for each other in public and private areas. The public area was a "message tree." At the top level was some main areas of discussion. You went down one of the branches and, like a tree, you found several "sub-brances" related to that topic. Once you got pass a few layers of organization, you got into the main discussions themselves.
The tree-like organization allowed for very free-form discussions to take place. It allowed for an almost "on the fly" creation of topic areas and discussions because while the structure was put into place by the tree, anyone could create a new topic area and generate discussion very easily. Each message under the very first message had a "parent" and a potential for "siblings" and "children." In an efficient manner, you could see which messages were related to which. You could easily traverse an entire discussion as well as traverse the message system in a linear fashion to catch all the "new" postings.
The things we talked about on Temple of Zuul were varied. Politics, computer stuff, and role-playing games were the topics I remember. I even got to run my own role-playing games on Zuul and had my own section of the tree to manage. But it was the participation of people and the dedication of the person who operated the BBS that made it a community. No graphics. No real-time interactivity. Just people exchanging ideas.
On another occasion, a friend of mine from Canada (whom I had met online) made her way down to visit us. Actually, she first met us on our vacation to Las Vegas before coming back with us to California for a visit. The dynamics of that were interesting. Her biggest surprise was that I was more outgoing than I appeared online. The big reason for that -- I tend to do a lot of different things while I am online because the communication isn't always immediate. If I'm working on something else and trying to have conversations on IRC, I tend to miss things that happen in IRC. So I say a lot less online sometimes than I do if you're in front of me. ;-) All in all, it was a good trip.